Police oversight recommendations are out: It’s your move Kathleen Wynne

Black Lives Matters Toronto says the Tulloch review offers many positive and required changes, but in some areas it doesn’t go far enough.

A year ago, Black Lives Matter Toronto concluded #BLMTOtentcity, our 15-day occupation of Toronto Police headquarters. Braving volatile weather and a police raid, our people demanded justice for Andrew Loku and an overhaul of the Special Investigations Unit.

Twenty-seven years ago, black activists pushed for civilian oversight of the police. The SIU was created, and lauded as the provincial police watchdog, with a mission to “nurture public confidence in policing by ensuring that police conduct is subject to rigorous and independent investigations.”

On paper, this makes sense. And while the agency was initially welcomed by our elders, reality and time have painted a different picture. The SIU matured into a secretive agency of ex-officers, who make it easier for current officers to act with impunity.

Under the SIU’s watch, there has been a dearth of police officers charged and barely any convicted. Of 3,400 investigations, 95 have had criminal charges laid (less than 3 per cent), 16 have led to convictions, and only three have served time.

Take that in.

The demand to overhaul the SIU came after three decades of the SIU failing Ontarians and instead absolving police officers of their actions. The province listened and ordered an Independent Police Oversight Review, led by Justice Michael Tulloch.

Last week, the review released 129 recommendations. Most of them are what our communities have been calling on for years, including the public release of all past and future reports, demographic-based data on victims of police violence, and victims support services. These recommendations are the result of decades-long activism. These recommendations are the result of #BLMTOtentcity.

Some of these recommendations would represent important steps forward, if adopted. But some just don’t go far enough.

The report recommends that at least 50 per cent of the nonforensic investigators on an investigative team should have no background in policing. This threshold will continue to bring to question the integrity and impartiality of the agency’s investigations. Let’s be real: 50 per cent of investigators being former cops is a lot of influence. The province needs to go over and above this recommendation and any former or current police officer should be ineligible to serve on the SIU.

The premier should also take the bold step of committing to release the names of police officers investigated by the SIU, a step the report fails to recommend. The report considers the question and concludes that the standard for police should be the same as the standard for civilians alleged to have committed a crime; their names are released after an initial investigation and charge.

But this fails to acknowledge the simple fact that police officers are not civilians. They should be held to a higher standard. What if the officer has a history of excessive force, or targeting black communities? What is there to hide? Why shouldn’t we know who’s hurting civilians? After all, we employ them. Our tax dollars support their inflated salaries and the weapons they use to terrorize our communities.

The question remains, would publicizing the names of officers who harm decrease the number of misconduct cases? We think so. Officers who shoot, kill, and sexually assault civilians should do so with the knowledge the public will be apprised of the details; that is a tenet of accountability. These are public officials working in official capacity.

The report is a much-needed first step, but simply, we need more.

In the past 30 years, there have been at least seven reviews that speak directly to police accountability and the SIU, going as far back as the 1988 Task Force on Race Relations and Policing.

They’ve produced similar results: promises of wide-sweeping changes, public fervour, and years of piecemeal action by policy-makers. Knowing history’s knack for repeating itself, Ontarians should be cautious in their optimism.

These are recommendations to fix a system predicated on stacking the cards in favour of trigger-happy cops, and this report is only as useful as its swift implementation by the province. Recommendations are nice but they mean nothing without action. Families of slain black people will not get justice from a report that sits on a shelf collecting dust.

On the last day of #BLMTOtentcity, Kathleen Wynne met with protestors outside and made fervent promises of commitment to addressing anti-black violence at the institutional level. Wynne, the ball is in your court. The work has only begun.